A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN 63 be dying and even get Soviet Army papers----" Gra- dually his fears were dispelled and he began to talk freely. Alexei lay dozing on a soft bed of pine-needles, with half-closed eyes, listening absent-mindedly to the boy's chatter. Only a few disjointed words reached his mind through the haze of restful languor that had at once spread over his whole body; and although he did not grasp what these words meant, the sounds of his native language gave him the utmost pleasure. Only later did he hear the story of the disaster that befell the inhabitants of the village of Plavni. The Germans had arrived in this forest and lake re- gion as far back as October, when the birches were glowing with yellow leaves and the aspen-trees seemed to be ablaze with a sinister red fire. There had been no fighting in the immediate vicinity of Plavni. About thirty kilometres to the west of the village, the German columns, headed by a powerful tank vanguard, after wiping out a Soviet Army unit that had made a stand at a hastily built defence line, moved round Plavni, which was hidden near a lake away from the road, and rolled on eastward. They were in a hurry to reach Bologoye, the big railway junction, capture it, and thus disconnect the Western and North-Western fronts. Here, at the far approaches to this town, all through the summer and autumn, the inhabitants of Kalinin Region, townspeople, peasants, women, the aged and children, people of all ages and all professions, had toiled night and day, in the rain, in the heat, suffering from mosquitoes, the dampness from the marsh and bad drinking water, digging and building defence lines. The fortifications ran from south to north for hundreds of kilometres, through forest and marsh, round the shores of lakes, and along the banks of small rivers and streams. Great were the sufferings of the builders, but their labour was not in vain. The Germans broke through some of the defence lines in their stride, but were checked at the last one. The fighting changed to positional warfare. The Germans failed to break through to Bologoye; they had to shift the weight of their attack further south, and on this sector to pass to the defensive.